Whether the criminal justice system succeeds in punishing a wrongdoer or not, many victims are left uncompensated for with physical, psychological, and financial injuries they may have suffered. Many survivors and victims of criminal acts do not know that they have options available to them in civil court. Civil litigation can compensate victims for financial losses including, but not limited to, lost wages, medical or mental health costs, property loss, and compensation for “pain and suffering” experienced by the victim that is attributable to the criminal act.
At its core, a civil action is a lawsuit that is filed by one citizen or legal entity against another. This “civil wrongdoing” is more commonly referred to as a tort. A tort is essentially an action, or inaction, by one person that causes harm to another person. Examples of tortious acts include assault, battery, wrongful death, invasion of privacy, false imprisonment, negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, sexual exploitation by a therapist or member of the clergy, defamation, etc.
In criminal law, a prosecutor decides whether to charge the perpetrator with a crime. In civil law, a person or entity decides to file a civil action. The citizen, more often than not the survivor or victim of the criminal act, makes the decisions in the case, including whether to accept or decline settlement offers. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the charged crime was committed by the defendant. However, in a civil action, the survivor must only prove by a preponderance of the evidence (a more-likely-than-not standard) that the defendant engaged in the tortious act. Winning a civil action means that the victim is going to be entitled to some sort of compensation.
There are plenty of reasons why bringing a civil action against a wrongdoer is important. First and foremost, it means that the perpetrator can be held accountable for what they have done. The community is also put on notice about what the perpetrator has done given that civil actions are generally public record. A civil suit will also deter others from engaging in similar behavior. The victim will have a chance to tell their story and to confront the perpetrator—if they feel comfortable doing so—and civil litigation often feels empowering for the victim.
It is, of course, important to file a civil action in a timely manner. Many intentional torts have a statute of limitation of three years, which means that the survivor or victim has three years in which to file a civil suit before their suit is barred. A civil action can be filed at any time before, during, after, or even in the absence of a criminal trial. A civil action may benefit from a guilty verdict in a criminal case, but it is also important to know that even if the defendant is acquitted or found not guilty in a criminal case, that does not mean that a civil action will fail as well.
When the damages are easy to prove and the victim is certain the damages will not exceed $5,000, the victim may seek compensation in small claims court. It is helpful to have an attorney present, but it is not required. However, if the victim in unsure about the amount of damages or if the damages will likely exceed $5,000, it is best to consult with an attorney first. Civil actions can be confusing, time-consuming, and involve many hurdles that must be overcome before the victim can be compensated. At Levine Eisberner LLC, our attorneys can guide you through the civil litigation process and assist you in getting the compensation that you desire. Call us now for a free consultation at 1-888-367-8198.